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$8 Million Award Upheld Against Trucking Companies and Driver

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n Illinois appeals court upheld an $8 million damages award against two trucking companies and the driver who struck and killed the plaintiff’s wife.

There were four defendants in the case:

  • Transfreight, a trucking company contracted with Toyota to make parts deliveries.
  • Kiswani Trucking, which was responsible for delivering the goods from a particular warehouse.
  • WD Trucking, which was subcontracted by Kiswani Trucking.
  • Robert Kleppe, the tractor-trailer driver hired by WD Trucking, who hit plaintiff Stephen McHale’s wife.

The plaintiff later dropped his suit against WD Trucking. The opinion consolidated three appeals: two appeals from the wrongful death action and one from an indemnity action.

The Master Agreement

Transfreight had a master agreement with Toyota to deliver parts to various locations. It was allowed to subcontract as needed in compliance with the master agreement.

Transfreight contracted with Kiswani, which was assigned to transport the goods pursuant to the specific routes outlined by Toyota. The Kiswani-Transfreight agreement allowed Kiswani to subcontract as necessary, in addition to carrying $5 million in comprehensive and vehicle liability insurance.

However, Transfreight orally modified the insurance requirement to $1 million.

Robert Kleppe, the tractor-trailer driver for WD Trucking, veered off course and made a stop not listed in the route specifications. During his detour, Kleppe struck and killed Stacey McHale who was standing next to her broken down vehicle.

Who is responsible?

Prior to trial, the plaintiff filed a third amended complaint alleging Kleppe and Kiswani had an employee/agent relationship and the Kiswani was responsible for the negligence of Kleppe. Kiswani admitted fault and the case proceeded to a jury on the issue of damages.

The defendants argued the trial court erred because on three occasions, details about the plaintiff’s financial status was admitted as evidence.  The court believed the instances where McHale’s economic status was presented did not rise to the level of a reversible error. The court believed any error was cured when the jury instructions were provided.

Also see: Indiana Man Settles Crash Lawsuit for $12,890,000

Transfreight contended Kleppe and Kiswani were not their agents. The panel noted there was overwhelming evidence that supported a finding contrary.

Transfreight also took issue with the jury form submitted during trial, which allowed the jurors to apportion damages. The appeals court agreed that the jury should not have been able to apportion damages but that fact alone did not warrant a new trial as requested by Transfreight.

On the final issue on indemnification, the court ruled that both parties agreed to the insurance coverage reduction and this change did not limit Kiswani’s potential liability. Based on the contract, Kiswani agreed to indemnify Transfreight without limitations.

This case is Steven McCale v. W.D. Trucking, Kiswani Trucking, and Transfreight LLC, Case No. 10 L 2934 F, Appellate Court of Illinois First Judicial District.

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